The history of Antarctic expeditions is disputed and stretches back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It was the Ancient Greeks who first came up with the idea of Antarctica. They knew about the Arctic – named Arktos -The Bear, from the constellation the great bear and decided that in order to balance the world, there should be a similar cold Southern landmass that was the same but the opposite “Ant – Arktos” – opposite The Bear. Unlike most places that were “discovered” by other civilizations but had endemic peoples already living there for thousands of years previously, Antarctica has never had a native human population.
The history of Antarctic expeditions is disputed and stretches back hundreds, if not thousands, of years
There were many attempts earlier but whaling and sealing voyages in particular in the late 1700s and early 1800s would venture ever further south when rounding Cape Horn at the tip of South America. It was known that going further south often meant stronger winds and so greater speed, though at grave risk of hitting floating ice of all sizes and of winds and seas that could prove fatal to the ship and crew. In 1773, James Cook and his crew crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time. Although he discovered new islands, he did not see the continent itself. It is believed that he came as close as 240 km from the mainland.
In 1773, James Cook and his crew crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time
Antarctica was first sighted in 1820. The first person to actually see the Antarctic mainland has been debated: in the last week of January, Thaddeus von Bellingshausen reported seeing ‘an ice shore of extreme height’ during a Russian expedition to the Antarctic. Around the same time, Royal Navy officer Edward Bransfield reported seeing ‘high mountains, covered with snow’ during a British mapping expedition.
During the last years of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, commonly called the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, the Antarctic region became the focus of international efforts that resulted in intensive scientific and geographical exploration by 17 major Antarctic expeditions launched from ten countries. The “heroic” label, bestowed later, recognized the adversities that had to be overcome by these pioneers, some of whom did not survive the experience: a total of 19 expedition members died during this period. Both the geographic and magnetic South Poles were reached for the first time during the Heroic Age.